VOL. IV - CHAPTER 1

Veness - The origin of the Surname

Early works on the origins of surnames suggest that Veness is an early import, a derivative of the Italian city 'Venice'. C. W. Bardsley expounds this theory in 'The Dictionary Of English and Welsh Surnames' published in 1901.

He gives as examples:

  • John de Venuz in 1273 in Essex (Hundred Rolls).
  • Leonard De Venetia (Rotuli Litterarum Clausaruim in Turri Londinesi).

And also notes that Venus, the God of Love, became a baptismal name, but too late to have an influence on surnames.

He quotes, as examples, the marriage of John Cotton and Venus Levat at St Peter, Cornhill in 1631 and Love Venus Rivers buried at St Peters, Cornhill.

In Currier, Briggs and Gambier book 'Debretts Family Historian' it is suggested:

"The Sussex name of Van Ness has as little to do with Holland as its variant Venis has to do with Venice. Both are variants of a place named Venoix in (the Calvados region of) Normandy where one of William the Conquerors knights held land before the Conquest. Other variants are Veness and Venus and have nothing to do with the erotic activities of their forbears."

L. C. Lloyd provided further detail in 'Origins Of Some Anglo-Norman Families' published in 1951.

"Miles, a marshal of Duke William Of Normandy, held land in Caen, Vaucelles and Venoix. In or before 1070 he was succeeded by his son Geoffrey the Marshal, who held land in chief at East Wordham, Hants in 1086. Geoffrey's successor, probably his son or grandson, was Robert De Venuz who is recorded in the Hampshire Pipe Rolls of 1130'. This is the earliest known incidence of the surname in any of its variants".

He also quotes the following variants:

  • Robert De Veniz 1203 in Hampshire (Pipe Rolls)
  • William De Venuz 1205 in Hampshire (Pipe Rolls).
  • William De Venoiz 1205 in Hampshire (Rotuli Chartarum).
  • William De Venus 1230 in Warwickshire (Pipe Rolls).

It is unclear why a now predominently Sussex surname originated in Hampshire and of late I have been made aware of other theories

Firstly is the suggestion that the name originated in the Netherlands. ' During the 1570's the Vatican was becoming alarmed by the spread of Protestantism, particularly in Great Britain and Northern Europe and was determined to take action to eliminate the threat. The Vatican had no armed forces of it's own, but agreed to turn a blind eye to the Spanish looting it's Central American colonies if they would provide armies for this task. The first step was to occupy Antwerp, then the Netherlands, with a view the large number of Protestants there. This was done. In 1580 the Jesuits, the political arm of the Vatican attempted to land in South West Ireland. This was defeated and the final attempt to overthrow the Protestants was the Spanish Armada.

According to tradition (unsubstantiated) three brothers Van Ness (a common name in Antwerp) escaped to England around 1600, landing in Rye Harbour and settled in the area around Brightling. It is understood that actually the arrival must have taken place well before 1600 and possibly in or soon after 1575. The first mention of the name found in any East Sussex Parish Register is in Brightling "1st December 1588 baptised John son of Michael Venice, a Frenchman". I am told this has been supported by a Veness family in Australia who are reported as saying 'In the original family bible Isaac Venice's name had "Van Hesse" in brackets'.

Secondly is the suggestion that the name originated in France. In the 16th century the East Sussex/Kent area (The Weald) was a centre for Iron working. At the time the French were recognised as being superior iron makers to the English and a number of French were "imported" to improve local production. This was a time when the French industry was having problems but the English iron industry was in the ascendancy due to the recent introduction of the blast furnace and Henry VIII (1491-1547)'s desire to re-arm his navy. The blast furnace technology had been developed in Holland and brought to England at the end of the 15th century via France. So ironically, the French immigrants were to help Henry VIII win his battles against the French and Spanish fleets by providing him with the ability to produce much higher quality cannons than before. This would tie in with one of our possible forebears Nicholas Venis having been born in France in 1562 (chapter 2).

The family of "Mad Jack Fuller" on whom there is more in chapter 2, made their money from the Sussex iron industry, having in 1693 acquired land near Heathfield for the Heathfield Foundry. In 1787 their furnace at Heathfield was producing 100 tonnes annually. There was also mention of Fuller as proprietor of a furnace in Waldron and forges in Burwash, producing 30 tonnes a year, Hawkesdean, Brightling and Westfield.

All this can only be theory and as can be seen from the ensuing chapters, the spelling of surnames can vary considerably. This was because the majority of the population could not read or write and it was up to the clerk to write the name down as he heard it or thought he heard it.

Click here to go to "Chapter 2 - Thomas Venice and Elizabeth Card".